McKinney elementary to teach kindergartners in English, move on to next lesson in Spanish


12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, April 17, 2010

By SAM HODGES / The Dallas Morning News

When the next school year begins at Caldwell Elementary, some kindergarteners will no doubt arrive unwillingly, clinging to their parents’ knees.



Kindergartners at Caldwell Elementary have been instructed the traditional way this year. But next year’s class will be taught in English one day, Spanish the next, with no repeated lessons so students are pushed to learn both languages. Immersion will follow them throughout each grade.

But once in the classroom, they’ll be pioneers, as part of the McKinney Independent School District’s first dual-language immersion program. Half of their instruction will be in English and half in Spanish, regardless of which subject they’re studying or language they speak at home.

The district plans to begin with these tots and over six years – adding a grade a year – make Caldwell Elementary a bilingual school.



Assistant principal Kelly Flowers, greeting Caldwell students, pushed for the dual education program. She majored in Spanish and did her master’s thesis on dual immersion education.

While that may allow children to plot mischief without their moms and dads comprehending, parents are some of the program’s biggest cheerleaders.

“For us to have this opportunity to have our whole school bilingual is huge,” said Jennifer Richmond, a PTO member with two children at Caldwell and a 3-year-old who will go there.

Julie Vargo, mother of two Caldwell students, PTO president and former McKinney City Council member, said: “Monolingual is just no longer working in America, particularly in Texas. I’m beyond excited about the dual-language program.”

Proponents say dual-language immersion boosts overall academic performance, breaks down cultural barriers and gives children an edge as they go forward in school and eventually into the workforce.

There are 366 such programs in 29 states and the District of Columbia, the Center for Applied Linguistics reports. In North Texas, Dallas and Prosper ISDs have dual-language immersion in some schools, and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD starts next year.

With McKinney ISD, the idea bubbled up from Caldwell Elementary.

Principal Chris Clark had worked at an Oklahoma school where Chinese was taught, and assistant principal Kelly Flowers had majored in Spanish and done her master’s thesis on dual immersion.

“The more I found out about it, the more I thought, ‘This is what we need to do for the students,’ ” Flowers said.

Diverse neighborhood

Caldwell is in McKinney’s historic district, whose shaded streets include expensive older homes as well as public housing.

Diversity extends to the school, which is about 62 percent Hispanic, 23 percent white, 13 percent black and 2 percent Asian. Most students are classified as economically disadvantaged.

Richmond and Vargas consider diversity a strength of the neighborhood and school, and worked through the PTO to provide supplementary Spanish classes for English-speaking kids.

But there’s a charge for those classes, meaning some kids couldn’t attend. The PTO leaders joined Clark and Flowers in making the case to Superintendent J.D. Kennedy and trustees that Caldwell was where the district should pilot dual immersion.

With so many Hispanic students, Caldwell has long had teachers fluent in Spanish. But bilingual education has focused on helping Hispanic kids learn English, not on helping other kids learn Spanish.

Next year, all kindergarten sections will share two teachers, one bilingual and one English-speaking, and alternate days by language.

What they cover one day in English, they won’t repeat the next day in Spanish. It’s on to the next lesson, whichever language day it is.

“That really forces the issue” of learning the second language, Flowers said.


An as-yet-undetermined number of spots in the program will go to kids who live outside the Caldwell zone. The district reports it has received many inquiries already from parents, and information meetings have been scheduled.

Camilo Ardila, a Caldwell kindergarten teacher born in Colombia, says Hispanic kids here are surrounded by an English-speaking culture that gives them an advantage in becoming bilingual. He thinks Caldwell will need to help English-only parents “undergird” their kids’ learning in Spanish.

But he’s all for bilingualism. His fluency in Spanish and English helped him shift careers and become a teacher.

“That was my golden ticket,” he said.

My question: Why the hell isn’t Gov. Perry putting a stop to this unless he actually approved of doing this.  He needs to address this issue and tell the people of Texas his thoughts about this.

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